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Boys & books

March 13th, 2004 · 1 Comment

Although we have lots of books – but no boys – in our home, I enjoyed this article in Thursday’s Seattle Times: Teaching boys the joys of books by columnist Jerry Large:

When the Public Library Association was in town recently, one of the speakers talked about the problem of boys drifting away from libraries as the boys get older. So I asked him about boys and reading.

“Boys are a year and a half behind girls throughout school,” Michael Sullivan told me, when I caught up with him by phone the other day.

Sullivan is director of the Weeks Public Library in Greenland, N.H., population 3,000. He’s spent 15 years as a teacher and a librarian.

“I’m a fairly rare breed, a man who works in early childhood education.” Sullivan is also a children’s librarian who has often thought about boys and books. “Whenever a parent of a boy sees a man teaching, they run up to him and ask, ‘How do you get boys to read?'”

The American Library Association asked him the same thing. “They came to me and said, ‘You’re a man who works with kids; will you write a book?'” And so he did, “Connecting Boys with Books,” published last year by the ALA. Here’s what he says.

“Allow a lot of choice. We tend to steer boys to books we like and ‘we’ in education is 95 percent women.” The books boys choose on their own appall teachers and parents because they are full of action, gross stuff and silly humor. But that’s just what boys like. What do many boys think of the books that win awards are on recommended lists? Boring.

Let them read what they like. They’ll be so hooked on reading that later they’ll try something else, maybe even something with mushy stuff in it. If they give up on reading nothing has been gained.

Lots of men have given up on reading and that’s too bad, because Sullivan thinks part of the reason boys don’t read is that they don’t see men reading. He says it is especially important for fathers to let their sons see them reading.

“Men, if you don’t want to read, just prop a book in front of your face.” At least let the kid think you are reading. He says men who do read tend to do so in isolation, so no one sees them.


Boys’ brains are wired different from girls; they learn differently. “Boys need multiple stimuli to get their brains going — noise and color and motion.”

Classrooms and libraries are quiet and orderly, the way women and girls like them.

But what about all the success boys have outside of school, I asked? If boys are being shortchanged, why are men so dominant?

It’s a question he gets all the time. “If all this is true, how come women are still fighting to become presidents in board rooms and for positions at the top of the society? I think that says something about our society; that we really don’t honor reading.”

Boys know you can succeed without being a reader. They see the evidence every day.

Boys see high officials who don’t read. Basketball players now don’t even have to finish high school. What’s a boy to think?

Well, he may think what those women at the beach thought. That reading is for women, unless your job requires it.

My dad read, my brothers liked to read and my husband brought a whole bunch of books with him into marriage. So the concept that reading is for women was a new perspective for me. I wasn’t sure what to think about the prop a book in front of your face advice. No worries at our home. Ted almost always has some reading material near his face, no need for propping. He says men who do read tend to do so in isolation, so no one sees them. Sounds so secretive! As if it’s shameful. I grew up with men and boys reading, and I see Ted reading all the time. Maybe it’s not always a book now…maybe it’s a blog….

Tags: news

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Katherine // Mar 13, 2004 at 9:49 pm

    My father and both brothers and husband and 9-year-old son all love to read. I have a hard time getting my son to stop reading when it’s time to do something else (get out of the car, go to sleep, get going in the morning…). My daughter and I also love to read, so it’s perfectly even in our family.